Still No Clear Frontrunner in California’s Race for Governor

Mark Laluan

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The latest Field poll released July 7 shows both Republican candidate Meg Whitman and Democratic candidate Jerry Brown tied in a dead heat.

The race remains deadlocked with 44 percent of those polled showing support for Mr. Brown and 43 percent showing support for Mrs. Whitman, within a 3.2 percent margin of error. Both Mr. Brown and Mrs. Whitman were the clear frontrunners in their respective primary races, but the latest poll numbers show that the media exposure accompanying the primary campaign period have produced mixed results.

The results of this election are of particular interest to the Cal State East Bay campus community. Current Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successor will inherit oversight over public higher education in California and will have the power to appoint members to the California State University’s Board of Trustees. The group directly responsible for setting overall policies such as fee rates for the entire CSU system.

One CSUEB student that has involved herself in the race for Governor is Samantha Calderon, a sophomore and CSUEB Chapter Chair for the “Students for Meg” political coalition. Ms. Calderon says that Mrs. Whitman is, “A candidate with the good sense to rebuild California’s foundations by effectively restructuring the three basics of a Californian’s life; jobs, budget, and education.” When questioned about Mrs. Whitman’s plans for public education Ms. Calderon said that Mrs. Whitman was focused on improving K-12 primary education and went on to say that, “Without the improvement of K-12 first, higher education will not need restructuring because no one will get to that stage.”

As of this June, Mrs. Whitman has put almost $91 million into play to spread her message, mostly from her own fortune, against the $23 million Mr. Brown has raised. Whereas Mrs. Whitman’s spending strategy is putting her campaign on track to overtake New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2009 personal financing record of $108,371,685.01 in expenditures to win his third term, Mr. Brown has indicated that he is holding his war chest in reserve.

When questioned as to why Mr. Brown has not countered the Whitman campaign with his own media outreach initiative during the summer, Dr. Elizabeth Bergman, a Political Science Professor at Cal State East Bay said that, “Brown does not—and will not—have the money that Whitman has, so he has to pace his campaign spending or he will have nothing left in the most critical weeks prior to the election.”

Mr. Brown, the sitting Attorney General who has previously served as Governor of California, California Secretary of State, and Mayor of Oakland, is banking on name recognition to convince the public of his qualifications. Yet in spite of Mr. Brown’s familiarity among voters, the disparity between Mr. Brown’s and Mrs. Whitman’s advertising efforts have worked to halve Mr. Brown’s lead among Latino voters, who make up 18 percent of California’s electorate, to 11 percent. In contrast Mr. Brown held a commanding lead of 24 percent among this traditional stronghold of Democratic support in January of this year.

The Whitman camp’s aggressive use of Spanish language media outlets began in the weeks leading up and into the 2010 World Cup has exposed California’s Latino population to Mrs. Whitman’s message. It remains to be seen if this shift in Latino opinion will continue in her favor given her hard line stance against illegal immigration.

Unsurprisingly both candidates maintain the loyalties of rank and file members from their respective parties, Mr. Brown maintains 74 percent support from registered Democrats, while Mrs. Whitman maintains 80 percent support from registered Republicans. Of local note, Mr. Brown draws his strongest support from the Bay Area and maintains a lead of 26 percent among those polled. Mrs. Whitman’s maintains her strongest support from those polled in the San Diego and Orange County areas and has most notably a 7 point lead in the Central Valley.

Among independent and non-party affiliated voters Mrs. Whitman has gained a 3 point lead. Out of California’s population of 38 million, 17.1 million are registered to vote as of 2009. With 44.6 percent of the electorate registered as Democrats and 31.0 percent registered as Republicans, the remaining 20 percent of the electorate that identifies itself as non-partisan and the 4.4 percent registered to other parties, have in past elections have held the power to settle the outcome of close races and referendums.

Dr. Bergman weighed in on if Mrs. Whitman’s early lead among independents at this stage of the race can translate into Mrs. Whitman maintaining the loyalties of this portion of the electorate into the Fall. “I would say that no lead is secure among moderates or independents, and not something that a smart candidate would rely on so far from an election,” she said. “You’ll recall John McCain was leading Barrack Obama up until the middle of September when he, John, erred in comments on the economy. It’s never over until it’s over. I would also say that Whitman’s money is no guarantee either. Remember a guy named Al Checci?”

Al Checci, a former Co-Chairman of Northwest Airlines, was a Democratic candidate in the 1998 Gubernatorial Election who spent over $40 million of his own fortune but failed to the win the Democratic primary despite having a commanding lead in early polls. Though this comparison cautions putting too much faith in deep pockets, it is worth noting that Mrs. Whitman soundly beat Steve Poizner in her primary contest and advanced to the next round, Mr. Checci did not.